Cardiff, Fulham, Norwich ready to fight Sunderland’s light ineligible player penalty

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Clubs normally face a points deduction whenever they field an ineligible player, as Sunderland did this fall. Last month, the Black Cats got off light after playing South Korean Ji Dong-won four times (and gaining one point) without the proper international clearance. Surprisingly, Sunderland got off with a six-figure fine.

In the face of relegation, Cardiff, Fulham, and Norwich City are now prepared to fight the Premier League’s lenient penalty. According to reporting by The Guardian, the self-titled “Gang of Three” has sent a letter to the league asking the punishment be reconsidered, noting that a long list of previous violations throughout the Football League has generally resulted in a points deduction.

Sunderland’s Saturday win at Old Trafford helped confirm relegation for Cardiff and Fulham, both clubs having lost their Round 37 matches. Norwich, currently three points behind Guy Poyet’s team, is at Chelsea on Sunday.

From The Guardian:

The Observer can reveal that the first steps have been taken by a self-appointed “Gang of Three” to initiate proceedings about the way Sunderland were let off with a six-figure fine despite fielding Ji Dong-won in four league games, spread over seven weeks, earlier this season. Norwich and Cardiff have enlisted Fulham’s support to challenge the league, and a legal letter has been sent on behalf of the three clubs arguing that the offence was serious enough to merit a points deduction …

The lawyers also note that Poyet has admitted being surprised the punishment was not heavier, and that Sunderland’s manager has stated publicly that Southampton should have been awarded the victory when Ji played in the 1-1 draw at [Southampton] in August.

As The Guardian notes, the wording of the league’s rules means it can impose whatever penalty it deems fit. Unless it decides to revisit last month’s ruling, the lenient punishment could leave relegation up to the courts, should Sunderland fail to pull away.

If the Black Cats continue the strong play that led the team to safety, they’ll be able to put enough room between themselves and 18th to make the appeal irrelevant. If, however, Sunderland can’t close strong, whichever club finishes 18th looks set to lawyer up.

Watch Live: Manchester United vs. Chelsea

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It’s a big one, you know: Manchester United hosts Chelsea in a battle for table positioning on Sunday at Old Trafford (Watch live at 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Scrutinized summer signings Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata start at center forward for their respective sides.

Morata scored the lone goal when Chelsea beat United 1-0 in November.

Jose Mourinho has opted for Scott McTominay over Michael Carrick and Juan Mata in the midfield, while Anthony Martial gets the call over Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard.

Chelsea will have Pedro and Olivier Giroud on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Lindelof, Smalling, Young, McTominay, Matic, Pogba, Alexis, Lukaku, Martial. Subs: Pereira, Bailly, Shaw, Carrick, Mata, Lingard, Rashford.

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Drinkwater, Kante, Alonso; Willian, Morata, Hazard. Subs: Caballero, Cahill, Zappacosta, Emerson, Fabregas, Pedro, Giroud.

Aubameyang says off-field criticism “goes over my head”

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The Daily Mirror posted a profile on Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang late Saturday, speaking with the Gabonese striker as well as a number of people in his life.

[ MORE: PL Saturday roundup ]

Most of the talk dealt with his obsession with soccer, which started as an admirer of his internationally-capped father, but the quotes getting attention come from Aubameyang and deal with his comfort as a flashy personality.

So for those wondering whether the 27-year-old is going to tame his off-field activities now that he’s moved to London, well, it’s unlikely.

Aubameyang has a bit of David Beckham in him, cognizant of his background and relishing his place in life.

“The clothes, the cars and all that are a bonus. I enjoy living this way. I like who I am and it doesn’t matter if other people can’t ­accept that – it goes over my head.

“As they say ‘you only live once’. It’s important to know where you come from and where your roots are – the rest is a big bonus.”

Any number of players, from Andy Carroll to Cristiano Ronaldo, have appreciated the very same things.

It’s not a big deal.

As long as on-field performances accompany them, any criticism is driven by envy or a need to attract a similar form of attention as the player himself.

Watch Live: Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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Crystal Palace could find itself back in the relegation zone with a heavy home defeat Saturday, and Tottenham Hotspur is certainly capable of providing such misery (Watch live at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

LINEUPS

Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Wan-Bissaka, Fosu-Mensah, Tomkins, Van Aanholt, Milivojevic, Riedewald, McArthur, Townsend, Sorloth, Benteke. Subs: Henry, Souare, Delaney, Rakip, Lokilo, Kirby, Lee.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (C), Aurier, Sanchez, Dier, Davies, Wanyama, Dembele, Lamela, Eriksen, Dele, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Foyth, Trippier, Rose, Sissoko, Lucas, Son.

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.